Sunday 31 May 2015

Eton Wick in the 14th Century

By the fourteenth century there were at least nine families in the village, for they are readily identifiable from deeds: Adam in the Lane, John Doget, William the Blakesmith, William Chapman, Thomas and William atte Wick, Robert the Shepherd and others. Where their homes are mentioned they would appear to lie north of the brook, between the field called the Hyde and the common pasture called the Mersh (or marsh) or near another called the Dene (or valley). These two areas or common still exist, though now perhaps a little smaller and known as the Great and Little Common respectively. Bradmere or Broadmoor was another area of pasture, but today this is arable and part of North Field. 

The meadows were to be found near the river and brooks, the Innings (today known as the Inner Ward Mead) lying parallel to the Great Common but north of the brook, the Wards, by Cuckoo Weir, and South Meadow.  The thirteenth century and the first half of the fourteenth century was a period of land hunger and there is clear evidence of land being won from the areas previously considered too marshy to use, such as the Water Slades mentioned In a deed as land 'newly cultivated'. This land lies on either side of the Eton Wick Road near the Willow Tree public house where the land still dips perceptibly.  The word slad(e)s can mean a hollow. In the eighteenth century there used to be a row of posts marked to show the depth of water lying on the road in the almost annual floods, giving warning to the carriages and waggons using the road. Even today there are still metal posts standing which were used during the 1947 floods.

There were four open fields, the Hyde, North Field, South Field and West Field, the latter so named apparently because It lay west of Eton rather than on the west side of the parish; in later centuries It appears to have been renamed Stonebridge Field.  Each field was divided into many strips and these grouped Into shots, furlongs or pieces with distinctive names such as Longfurlong, Middle Furlong, Stone hul (hill), Long Wythebedde, Broken Furlong and Rossey Piece. There was also land known simply as 'village land'. No hedges divided these strips and furlongs but, although each open field was planted with the same crops, the different alignment of the furlongs gave the fields a patchwork appearance.  The holdings of each man or woman, either owned or rented, were scattered throughout the fields and meadows. It is thought that originally each strip could be ploughed in one day and that the strips of land had been shared between the fields and its furlongs. By medieval times land had changed hands too often for any such pattern to be apparent, but certain families, such as the Brocases of Clewer, the Jourdelays of Eton and Eton Wick and many others were building up estates and farms. Small and large holdings were still dispersed among the fields as the dower settlement of Margaret Huntercombe of 1336 shows only too clearly. The Eton Manor was in 35 separate plots and she received a third of each of these, so that many were less than an acre and the narrowest no more than one pole

It is too much to expect to recognise any particular strip as surviving today. There has always been a certain amount of exchange and amalgamation as individuals found it more convenient to have their land in more compact blocks, yet right into this century strips are shown on the maps which accompany deeds and are separately itemized. The long narrow field just east of the College Sanatorium is the last strip of Broken Furlong in cultivation. The piece of land west of Haywards Mead, too, is part of an old strip that only became fenced in this century. In 1808 a Surveyor of the Royal Manor could write that 'there is hardly a hedge to be seen on the whole farm (Saddocks)*, and even today South Field is almost free of hedges with no permanent boundaries marking the boundary of the allotments or the land farmed by Mr. Paget, making these, perhaps, the last vestiges of the old landscape.

Strip farming in the open fields was also practised in Boveney Parish.  The part of Eton Wick that came under that parish was once part of the Tilstone Field and the Shepherd's Hut was built at the end of one strip in about 1830 when the rest of the field was still being tilled.  The name 'Tilstone' is intriguing; the earliest record of it occurs in a sixteenth century document when it was spelt 'Tyila's dene' suggesting that the name is derived from the dene or dip in the land owned by Tylla.  No records have been found to tell us who he was.

Rutted and dusty or muddy and full of puddles, the roads of the Middle Ages little resembled the macadam highway of today, yet already by the fourteenth century there was a pattern that is recognizable today. The Eton Wick Road was a public track though lying entirely within South Field.  Bell Lane and Common Road were both being used, their route following the edge of the Great Common and the Manor boundary. Haywards Mead, crossing the South Field to Meadow Lane, Eton, was one of the "King's highways', as was another road running through South Field and roughly parallel with the Thames, leading from New .Windsor to Boveney.  None as yet possessed their modern names; Common Road was BIakes (possibly Blacksmiths) Lane and one of those passing through the South Field by Cuckoo Weir was appropriately known as Mill Lane. Joiebalteslane is perhaps to be identified as the road running towards Little Common. The track which still runs north of the Great Common, alongside the Inner Ward Meads, was called Innings Lane. Connecting this track to Broadmoor and possibly continuing to Chalvey was Droflane. Though the position of this lane is not known, old maps of the parish show several footpaths crossing the North Field, and until the motor car changed the pattern of family life, these footpaths were regularly used by the people of Chalvey and Eton Wick.

This is an extract from The Story of a Village: Eton Wick 1217 to 1977 by Judith Hunter.

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